ALLIANCE, Ohio — The Jemily Horse Park is definitely something out of the ordinary. But it’s also necessary for those wanting to develop their horsemanship skills.
The Thomas family, which has been attending horse shows and events for years, kept seeing the same mistakes by different riders, especially in the younger age groups.
Many riders are riding for the judge and doing what their trainers tell them to do inside the showring — but outside of the ring, the riders would lack control over their horses.
At one show, pinwheels were handed out to children attending. When the horses entered the ring, their attention was on the pinwheels, and caused many horses to spook and the riders to lose control.
The pinwheel incident made the Thomas family realize that riders needed to learn more control and many horses needed to be exposed to different environmental factors. Both of those lessons need to happen in and outside of the riding ring.
Jemily Horse Park, which just opened in Alliance, Ohio, is the culmination of these observations from the Thomas family.
Helga, the family matriarch, said it was clear to them that many riders were not concentrating on what they could be doing with their horses and were, instead, just thinking about gaining the blue ribbon.
“Sometimes you have to think outside of the box,” said Helga.
Helga’s daughter, Jennifer, 21, is a trainer after many years of riding, and her youngest daughter, Emily, 19, also shows horses.
The goal of the extreme obstacle course is to allow horse and rider partners to safely practice maneuvering through various obstacles while in a safe, controlled environment.
The trail, which is not geared toward trail riders alone, gives all types of riders a chance to work on skills, and the course has served as a training arena for Thoroughbreds, ponies and all types of disciplines.
“It serves the eventer to the green broke horses, and all disciplines and ages,” said Jennifer.
“Everything we’ve built is because we have had experience where these skills would have come in handy,” said Helga.
The obstacles in the course are tools to crosstrain a horse and apply aspects from all disciples to develop skills, horsemanship and confidence.
“A lot of horses and riders need to work on their confidence,” said Jennifer. “These obstacles allow both the horse and rider to just do that.”
Jennifer said she has noticed that the amount of people showing has decreased for all types of reasons. However, the desire to do something with their horses has not. The obstacle course gives the rider the chance to develop skills and have fun with the horses.
Obstacles featured in the park include a pond, a covered bridge, a maze, fix-a-flat, pony express, wagon wheel, Texas Two Step, cowboy curtain and cross over.
The facility also offers tie posts at different locations, including a spot in the obstacle course where a rider can dismount, tie the horse to a tie post and enter a faux outhouse like many riders encounter on trail rides.
The list also includes challenging your horse to talk through rough terrain, how to maneuver a ladder, canter poles, a teeter-totter to help develop control of your horse, a pole scramble, opening and closing gates while on the horse, a sunken crossroad, navigating pool noodles, walking up a bank and back down.
Jennifer said the ladder test is more difficult than many think. It takes patience on the rider’s part.
“It may take a little while, but the ladder maneuver helps to build a stronger horse and rider relationship,” said Jennifer. “The course is making an honest rider out of a lot of people.”
Helga said that when a rider comes to the facility for the first time to ride, they are required to register and sign liability forms.
JHP is available on Monday or Tuesday for private riding groups of five more.
Helga said the entire family worked to build the obstacle course. Each one had their own part in it, including her husband, Karl. Even the name of the park, Jemily, represents the family — it is a combination of the daughters’ names.
The JHP also offers a riding arena.
The course is open for local 4-H groups to have a riding meeting at the park and practice their horsemanship. Helmets are required for all mounted participants.
Visitors are welcome to view the facility before you trailer into the park. Park hours are Wednesday-Sunday from 10 a.m.- dusk and admission is $20 per horse on park grounds.
There is also a pavilion where parents or other spectators can watch the riders work on their horsemanship skills.